' ' Cinema Romantico: Laggies

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


In Lynn Shelton’s previous film, “Your Sister’s Sister”, she coaxed forth the three best performances of 2012. She did this partly by giving her trio of principal actors – Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt – a solid screwball situation, something off which they could really play. More so, however, she did this by adhering to her Mumblecore roots and not forcing the issue with filmmaking affectations and fancy edits. She merely let them naturalistically rip it. And while that specific genre is known for improvisation, this never felt made up on the fly. No, it felt as if lives were being lived right there on the screen. “Laggies” might not be a better film than “Your Sister’s Sister”, but it might be a more impressive accomplishment. If I didn’t know any better, and it’s possible that I don’t, I would strongly suspect that Shelton set out to challenge herself with “Laggies” to see if she could incorporate all manner of treasured Hollywood pedanticisms (sic) and still yield great performances. She succeeds, and she does so particularly on the strength of her leading lady, Keira Knightley.

Knightley’s Megan is raised from well-worn character stock. She’s a twenty-something with a degree but no direction and an engagement ring from a fiancé (Mark Webber) on whom she seems fairly mixed. At a childhood friend’s wedding, this daddy’s little girl stumbles across her Dad (Jeff Garlin) cheating on her Mom, and she instantly turns her back on the pressures of adulthood by reverting to childhood, like Kristen Bell in “The Lifeguard.” She befriends a teenager Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) by buying her alcohol, ditches the wedding reception to party with high-schoolers and winds up taking asylum by indulging in a weeklong sleepover at Annika’s house where she meets and falls for her underage BFF’s single dad, Craig (Sam Rockwell).

The scenario is both inherently implausible and pure Hollywood, and it gets better (worse). To cover her escape from the real world, Megan informs her family, friends and fiancé that she’s out of town at a “professional seminar”, no doubt one of those places with name tags where overly talkative business professionals help synergize your career goals, or some such. And even though she’s not really there, she kind of is anyway, as her ridiculously conventional week of R&R becomes a highly unusual professional seminar in its own way. Yeah, it’s that kind of screenplay, yet the screenplay simultaneously has the cojones to call itself out on its own absurdity. Explaining her dilemma to another character, Megan realizes mid-sentence the symbolism of the whole situation and comments on it. And even if it is merely an attempt to cut off criticisms at the pass, Knightley utterly sells that sudden moment of recognition, expressing the sentiment as if she just pulled it out of thin air.

Knightley, a marvelous actress who has made her reel on period pieces, a fact which has worked against her in some critical circles, is wholly modern, right down to the Peter Pan complex, and convincingly assumes an American accent with a rasp that seems to begin in the back of her throat. An early scene at her friend’s wedding finds all the girls with their hands to their hearts during the “first dance”. Knightley stands off to the side with her jaw in her hand. That’s the attitude the entire turn emits – jaw in hand. Her life is just floating on by, and in one scene, where she poses as Annika’s mother for a meeting with a guidance counselor that naturally works as her meeting with a guidance counselor, she literally looks at her figurative life floating by. It’s amazing.

And it’s dozens of little gestures and reactions that repeatedly evince every clockwork piece of plotting. When Craig pulls Megan to aside to understandably grill her about who she is and why, for the love of God, she’s hanging out with his daughter, she speaks extemporaneously and essentially admits she doesn’t know. The whole performance exudes extemporaneousness. She has no plan and isn’t making things up on the fly as much as she’s just sort of reacting to whatever’s thrown in front of her, and more often than not her reactions make no sense. And for every predictable plot development, every reveal, every I-Turned-The-Corner-At-PRECISELY-The-Wrong-Time-To-See-What-I-Shouldn’t-See, every inept metaphor like a pet turtle that shows...how......slowly.........we............evolve, Knightley lends a smorgasbord of Oh my God, what am I doing?! ballast.

One of the film’s early sequences finds Megan going to a bachelorette party with these childhood pals of hers from whom she’s clearly grown apart. The place they’re at sports a statue of Buddha, a statue that conspicuously renders him with nipples, a fact she can’t help but addressing in a light-hearted condescending manner. She’s chastised, demonstrating the friction with her supposed friends, but the moment quietly suggests more, as if her ragged journey to come will kind of transform into an indie version of the eightfold path.


Candice Frederick said...

hmmm i actually really didn't like Your Sister's Sister. Maybe I'll like this one though.

Nick Prigge said...

Honestly, you could go either way. It's certainly more formal filmmaking than "Your Sister's Sister" was but it's definitely still Shelton.